Feb 282013

It’s an old topic but both Norman and Chris feel obliged to revisit it.  Clearly, there must be something which keeps it up in the forefront of our minds.  It does in mine too – most days of my lapsed Catholic existence.  So why might this be?  Norman quotes from John Lloyd, writing in New Statesman (the bold is mine – and I particularly draw your attention to the use of the word “armoury”):

[…] the responsibility to protect remains a powerful moral imperative. It must remain part of the armoury of those states with the power and the will to stop tyranny where it is possible to do so and where intervention is likely to work – as it did in Sierra Leone, in Kosovo and ultimately in Bosnia. It may work in Mali. More thought needs to be given to how it might work in Syria. For the left, the responsibility to protect should be part of aprogressive view of global problems. That the principle has become synonymous with a kind of refurbished imperialism is a sign of decadence.

Meanwhile, Chris suggests the following:

One message of Lincoln is that even decent men must sometimes use unpleasant means to achieve worthy ends. […]

Now there have been plenty of arguments over what the British Coalition government has been doing to its people over the past three years or so.  Most explanations on the left of the political spectrum seem to centre on stories of conspiring neo-conservatives looking to replace sensible British socialism with the corporate capitalist landscapes they already shape in the US to fill their ever-deepening pockets.  In fact, I wrote yesterday about two examples of where this might already be happening – first of all, in Greece; second of all, here in the UK.

On the right, meanwhile, the publicly acknowledged discourses seem to focus on seeing life in terms of the deserving and the undeserving.  We get language such as “scroungers” and “shirkers”, contrasted violently with those who “strive” for what they have.  Hard-working families versus disabled couch potatoes who cause local councils any number of financial problems at the expense of the “economically viable” in society.

Not such a massive gap between such attitudes and New Labour’s aspirational socialism, to be honest.  Something we, perhaps, do not readily recognise enough – nor often enough either, it would seem.

Yet it seems to me that without wishing to demonise any human being a priori – that is to say, solely on the basis of their politics – we need to examine if there isn’t a far more profound and fundamental fault-line causing all this awful disenchantment; all this societal dysfunctionality; ultimately, all this cruel mismatch between what we start out exhibiting, as birth gives way to initial innocence, and how we end up in the hours before death.

Can we honestly say that any human being ends up doing more good than bad?  If progress – real progress fairly conceived – is the measure of how efficient, competent and inclusive our democracies and wider civilisations are supposed to be, how on earth can we define this “doing good by doing bad” as any kind of convincing progress?

And here, exactly here, it seems we finally find our fundamental fault-line: whilst we on the left sincerely believe in a supportive human existence, you on the right sincerely believe in a warlike human existence.  Whilst we construct strange caverns of political duplicity to get past you all kinds of Machiavellian intentions – witness New Labour’s famous socialism by stealth, for example, in the honestly held and understood (even where failed) intention to create a tapestry of humanity – you perceive precisely our best efforts as terrible weaknesses bound to lead us all to damnation.  For you, the world is a violent place of conflict.  To deny this reality is to play manipulative games of self-deception.

On doing good by doing bad?  That is – perhaps – what the right has done since time immemorial.  Not out of a desire to do evil at all.  Simply out of a nonchalant acceptance of the animal within us.

“Transformative reconciliation” was a phrase which came my way via Twitter this early afternoon.

We certainly need more of that right now.

But, perhaps, in the violence the right is inflicting on us now – out of this firmly-held belief that since violence is inevitable whatever one does, better a doing-good style of violence than an entirely doing-bad one – “transformative reconciliation” isn’t even for those of us on the left to perform.

No.  The Tories are not Nazis.  At least, not yet.

But the battle enjoined may have a similar sense and insensibility.  It might be the case that we on the left have to consider John Lloyd’s terminology very carefully.  When he says the responsibility to protect “must remain part of the armoury of those states with the power and the will to stop tyranny”, perhaps – equally – we must apply it to our internal conflicts back home.

A war of a kind then?  Even if only figuratively couched?

Time to do good by doing bad?

I hardly suggest this lightly.  Democracy is a precious figure which, once lost, is truly hard to regain.

I just know that – somewhere along the road we are blindly treading – this Britain of mine, this homeland of mine, this nation of mine, will begin to look just a little like the earthquake-ridden anterooms, which, located all those years ago along all those Balkan fault-lines, destroyed millions of lives, as well as their corresponding tranquillities, that we felt post-war Europe had awarded us.

As a Spanish general recently observed (page in Spanish): “The fatherland is more important than democracy.”

So is that the terrible place we are slowly being driven towards by the righteous Tories?  (Or, indeed, by our stealth-riven selves?)

And if so, how on earth should we properly react?

By doing bad ourselves too?

Is that really the only way?

Feb 012010

I really don’t want these pages to turn into one boring Apple tirade after another.  In fact, when much younger, I remembering loving the Apple II computer to bits.  All that gorgeous potential held in all those gorgeous expansion slots.  Which is why I’ve been trying to work out what makes me feel so much instinctive anathema these days to the Apple way of doing things.

Outrageous pricing and what’s more, probably borderline price-fixing for starters, I suppose.  Never understood why Microsoft can suffer so justly at the hands of the European Union whilst Apple gets away with murder.  Products which cost twice what the opposition costs and then, it would seem, no discounts to be found anywhere.  But then, you would say, no one’s forcing all these people to buy Apple now, are they?

Never wanted an iPod either.  Quite happy with my phone-integrated MP3 player.  Never wanted an iPhone in fact.  Quite happy with my Nokia smartphone, which is also my blogging camera and allows me to read my emails (really important) and surf the Internet when I’ve got nothing better to do away from home (not so key).  Truth is I’m not an instinctive early adopter.  Even if I had the money, I wouldn’t be.  I like my stuff to last.  ‘Could say because of the planet.  But it’s probably mainly because I’m actually a sentimentalist.

So why did I love the Apple II so much and the other day find the iPad such a resistible idea?  Really, I haven’t been wise enough to discover the truth by myself.  As always, like a virtual cavalry, John Naughton’s Memex picks up on the whys and wherefores and comes to the rescue.  Quoting this from Alex Payne, I now understand:

The thing that bothers me most about the iPad is this: if I had an iPad rather than a real computer as a kid, I’d never be a programmer today. I’d never have had the ability to run whatever stupid, potentially harmful, hugely educational programs I could download or write. I wouldn’t have been able to fire up ResEdit and edit out the Mac startup sound so I could tinker on the computer at all hours without waking my parents. The iPad may be a boon to traditional eduction, insofar as it allows for multimedia textbooks and such, but in its current form, it’s a detriment to the sort of hacker culture that has propelled the digital economy.

To be honest, I now understand much better what’s happened to me over the years.  Hating, as I do, Microsoft’s monopolistic grip on the market, I’ve been unwilling to admit that from a hardware point of view Gates’ concept is far more forgiving – even where sometimes frustrating (damn video card/hard drive/USB port incompatibility) – than Jobs’ could now ever be.  No.  I’m not arguing that Microsoft will ever be the paradigm of openness – quite the opposite in fact.  But there are certain superficial elements of what it means to be a PC user that truly make one feel one is in an open environment, even when this is perhaps not especially accurate.

The million different ways you can employ to do the same thing, for example.

I find Macs so frustrating as my right-click contextual menu lets me down.  And I really have been unable to get the hang of a one-button mouse.

OK.  All those different ways of doing things in PCs were originally there to capture clients from competing software so that a monopoly could be fashioned out of the ashes of more deserving proposals.  And perhaps Microsoft is that virtually evil intestinal tract which unhealthily consumes bright ideas (in a way that is far more akin to a pneumonic plague than a productive capitalist economy) to the awfully destructive detriment of what should be a much wider progress.

Given a choice, therefore, I would be far happier using a computer running a freely available copy of Linux and KDE or Gnome than a Mac running a locked-down operating system designed to fill the pockets of chic hardware designers.

It is clear to me now that, as atheism was to Christianity before it, Linux has inevitably grown up in the shadow of the PC and can’t but help be on nodding terms with its environment – even if underneath the body surfaces the engines are completely different.

So it is that my ideal world would be peopled by an improved Bill Gates.

A user-friendly and – essentially – respectful Windows, in fact.

A nice flavour of Linux, in reality.

But not the Apple way.  Not the modern Apple way.  Not the Apple way since the iPhone came along, is what I mean.

For Apple cannot fairly argue it makes the complex easy.  Rather, it forces you into one way of being and doing and convinces you that you’ll never want anything else (something we cannot reasonably accuse either Windows or Linux of doing).  Then it charges you so much for the honour that, in fact, you probably deliberately decide not to look anywhere else as a consequence, out of a powerful fear of post-purchase consumer depression at having spent fifty or a hundred percent over the odds for the experience.

So maybe I can see the point of a PC after all.  Maybe I can understand – in part – why Gates managed to achieve what he achieved.  Maybe I can appreciate that there is some value in the conceptual architecture, hardware-wise, of what it is to be a PC – even if the operating system itself is … well … crappy.

What really clinches it for me, however, is what Naughton observes at the end of his post, as he reviews a comment on  Payne’s overarching arguments and conclusions:

One of the comments also makes an important point, namely that the dichotomy between ‘closed=safe’ and ‘open=vulnerable’ is a false one. The most insidious thing of all is a closed system that isn’t secure but which users believe is secure, because that leaves them open to hacking in a particularly unpleasant way. A bit like the false confidence that comes from using a bike-lock which you are told is unbreakable but which is, in fact, vulnerable to those who know how to break it.

And which is why my libertarian streak suddenly seems to want to incline me to the dark side.  For if closed did equal safe and open did equal vulnerable, where would that leave our politics?  Everything is, after all, connected these days.  Code is constitution.  If we did allow Apple to impose its philosophy on us in the digital world, whether actively or by default, we might just find we’d end up picking up the same instincts in the political.  And that would – indeed – be an extremely unhappy circumstance.